Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book and Phone

Out of nowhere and all of a sudden, I carry my cell phone with me wherever I go. For years, I had a "flip phone" that I managed to leave at home 90% of the time. (My wife will vouch for this.) Now I have a smart phone that I rarely forget to bring with me.

We can chalk this up to an old dog learning a new trick; to the gradual cementing of a new paradigm inside his fuzzy sub-consciousness. Or, we can see it as a need for entertainment that is always right at hand.

Gottfriefd Schalcken
For me, that entertainment usually amounts to a "Words with Friends" game or an exploration of the Interwebs for new and nifty musical equipment -- so, good, edifying things (right?) -- but it is entertainment, nonetheless. I'll give myself a little credit by saying that when I am waiting in line to pick up the boys after a school activity, my phone often sits by me as I watch parents in car after car hunched over their tiny screens like glowing, new-age penitents. But, I still have the thing with me everywhere I go...

So, knowing, now, that it is possible to carry a thing with me out into the world all of the time without any real effort and inconvenience, I decided I am going to try something new. I'm going to start bringing whatever book I am reading with me wherever I go. 

I never did this on a regular basis because I thought is was inconvenient. But, how much worse is it that carrying a cell phone? So, when the other parents are flipping through Facebook, I will be flipping through Steinbeck. Yeah, the phone will be there, but the book will be "metal more attractive" to a guy who lives in the world by necessity but who is always looking for ways to be not of the world. (And, in the end, I will still get the text about picking up milk...) 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Why Do We Know Not "Seems"?

Granted, I am unusually attached to words and perhaps over-sensitive to their fine shades when they're piled against one another in various shapes, but, it seems to me that we could change the nature of argument if everyone would open their statements of opinion with the phrase: "It seems to me..." (See what I did there?)

Hamlet, doing her Yorick
monlologue. Not what it seems, eh?
But, think about it: everything is about how is "seems" to us. Hamlet may "know not 'seems'," but the rest of us do. And if something "seems" a certain way to us, the implication is that it is an at-the-moment kind of thing. There is an unspoken admission that the speaker could actually be wrong.

Normally, I instruct my writing students to argue with a tone of absolute confidence; to leave out "I feel" and "I think." And I still believe that is important. These days, however, we might just need to allow some doubt in to our arguments for the sake of avoiding the literal and metaphoric fisticuffs that dominate the modern agumentative stage.

If the point of argument is not simply to win the argument, but to arrive at the truth, there is good reason to allow for shifts based on the perspective of how things "seem" to others...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Benefits of Getting Punched in the Face

A former student of mine (thanks, Andrew) posted this meme yesterday and it rang so true for me that I had to share it. It is probably not what you expect, but here it is:

I can't say I have ever seen a truer idea and I truly believe that being punched in the face really served a purpose for me.

Sure, I fought as a kid in playground scraps, but, once, I was driving to school on a rainy morning and -- I don't remember why -- I had to hit the brakes, hard, almost slamming into the car in front of me. Apparently that angered a guy behind me, who followed me in to the school parking lot and punched me in right in the jaw as I got out of my car.

He connected pretty well. It really didn't hurt. More importantly, it did no damage either to my heart or my body.

I wish I could tell you about how I knocked him out, but he was back in his car and gone before I knew (literally) what his me.

Take the metaphor where you will, but it happened to me a few other times in my life and, for me, it serves as a reminder that even the most violent things are not necessarily as bad as they seem. After all, what sounds worse than "getting punched in the face"?

I have often thought about that punch when facing challenges and this meme reminded me of that.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Blogger, Chris Matarazzo, Goes Stark-Raving Mad (Guest Post by Nick Smedley)

This just in: Moronic jackass of an entitled twit UNC college student starts petition to have Villanova basketball victory over UNC overturned due to what he alleges was bad officiating.

When asked for comment, little-known blogger Chris Matarazzo responded by saying, "Fllrt. Grrr. I can't.... How can?  The... GAAAHHH!"

We had to turn to his wife for a coherent answer, as Chris proceeded to gnaw on one of the legs of his living room couch...

Said Karen, "A lot of times, I think Chris ought to put more of his true feelings into his blog posts, because, here in the living room, he flips out about stuff, but he always says that no one wants to hear an all-out rant except the people who already agree with it, so there is no real mind-changing going on. But I really feel some of his passion gets lost in translation to his blog posts. Sometimes the posts are just too darned polite. But this...this just sort of cracked him, I think. Like, everything he has been holding inside...just...kaplooey!"

At this point, Matarazzo had ceased his gnawing and was lying on the floor panting from his exertions with little chips of wood in the corners of his mouth. He was muttering: "Everything...they want it all the way they want it... Everybody wants the outcome they WAAAAANNNT..."

Before you could say "Jack's your uncle," Matarazzo began slamming his head against a glass table, upon which his wife, clearly having had to deal with this sort of meltdown before, placed a small cushion. We carried on the interview with her, with the dull thud of Matarazzo's head softly thumping time in the background. (At one point, a white dog walked into the room, sniffed at Matarazzo, and then walked away with a quiet whimper.)

"You see," Mrs. Matarazzo said, "Chris has been slowly falling apart. I think it all started a few years ago when a parent called the school in which he works and said, 'I pay tuition and a D+ is not an acceptable grade.' My husband offered to change the grade to an A for a fee of $500 and the parent said, 'You can't do that...' and Chris responded, 'I know I can't. That's my point.'"

"Sure," Mrs. Matarazzo went on, "He won the battle that day, but ever since, it's like all he sees is people demanding that every little condition of their existence be made to their specifications." She stopped to tenderly pat Matarazzo on the head as he sat, cross-legged, on the floor, ripping out the fringe of the pillow with his teeth. "It's sad, what it did to him. Here is a guy who used to argue against instant replay in sports, saying that human error and even arguments with the umpires were part of the fun of the game...and now...this..."

At this point, Matarazzo jumped up, screamed "INSTANT REPLAY!? AHHHHHHH!!!!!" and he ran out of his living room, crashed through the sliding glass doors of his dining room and disappeared into the woods behind his house.

Mrs. Matarazzo shrugged. "He'll be back in a few days, the poor thing. Then he will probably write some balanced, well-reasoned blog post about how people need to begin to accept that they can't have everything the way they want it. If you will excuse me, I have to turn on backyard speakers. He won't ever come back unless he hears Ravel wafting through the trees..."

Nick Smedley, reporting from Southern New Jersey.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Brick and Fog

For all my trumpeting about thought over emotion; for all my belief that even the lowest lows can be reasoned through if one has prepared himself enough as a thinker to deal with them, I am afraid there is little defense against the surprise collapse of what has always seemed a given truth in one's life.

I suppose this can apply as early as that moment when we get the true story behind various holiday-associated supernaturalities and then into our more mature years when previously dear beliefs give way to circumstances. For example, that job we have dreamt of since the age of twelve turns out to be nothing like we imagined; or, our faith beliefs are shattered by some event; or, what we thought about people, in general -- say, the belief that most people are kind at heart -- gets proven (at least for us, personally) wrong.

These are big examples. But the more insidious shift happens on a smaller, more "viral" level. In these cases, we are not talking about a tectonic drift in philosophical belief or of theological understanding, but in a tiny thing that the thinker has never even though to doubt; it has just been a brick in the foundation of his life, down there, under the house of his body and soul, doing its job, silently, even invisibly. A small, but integral part of that which defines his existence. 

If circumstances, then, wind up exposing that brick and if a good dusting-off of the brick shows all is not as it seemed, the impact of this is one that is not expected. Maybe the brick gets put back into its place, but it is replaced in the consciousness by the nagging idea that it is cracked. Not enough to bring the house down, but enough to raise questions as to whether the house is what it has always seemed to be. 

All of this vague metaphor calls for a real example. Imagine you have a best friend who has, for years, supported you and encouraged your abilities as, say, a real-estate agent, but then you find out that he really believes you are not very good at what you do. It's not the fact that he doesn't think you are good that is the problem; it's the fact that what you thought was a brick in the foundation of your relationship -- maybe for decades -- is not quite what it seemed. If what you saw as mutual respect was an unconscious element of your relationship's definition, now, you are face with the fact that you have been wrong -- maybe for a day, but maybe for decades. 

We can't be ready for the fall of something that has seemed to be such a surety that we have never really consciously marked it. Afterward, the revised knowledge becomes like a fly buzzing around our heads and it can bring us down.Sure, we still can (and have to) think our way out of the dark, but, an element is added: we need to pick ourselves up because the unexpected nature of this tiny revelation has knocked us off of our feet. We need to get our balance again before reason can intervene. 

Going into work, for example, we expect that we may have the most awful day ever, and we can be ready to peer over the treetops of the dark forest of our day and say: "There is my home. I'll be there, soon, and this day will be behind me." We are ready to defend against that kind of bad mood. But the new idea we never see coming? Bam. Next thing you know, you're sitting up in the gloom and trying to shake the fuzz out of your head. And until that fuzz is gone, the real reasoning; the real navigation out of the fog cannot begin. It can be really hard to shake off that kind of a fog.